Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress (Part 1-Workshops)

This past week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the 2011 PMI North American National Congress. It was an exhilarating and beneficial week.  I will break this into a total of three posts for 1) What I learned in workshop sessions, 2) what I experienced in networking, and 3) what I learned from presenting and observing other presenters.

Workshop Sessions

Urgency: A Critical Factor in Project Planning

Ricardo V Vargas, MS, PMP (@rvvargas)

No matter how urgent a project is, there are a minimum of 10 PMBOK® processes that must be completed in order to provide a true opportunity for project success.  Doing these 10 things thoroughly will turn a troubled project around and set the stage for an urgent project before trouble begins.  While these 10 steps do not reflect the optimum in project management, the abbreviated approach is infinitely better the bypassing important project planning altogether. This includes:

  • Developing a WBS that goes down only three levels.
  • Assigning one resource to be the keeper of the work package
  • Making sure the entire team gets together for a status report on work packages (what has been accomplished, what is committed, and what are barriers) with the following guidelines on frequency
    • At each mark of 10% of the total duration
    • No less than once a month
    • Not more than once a day

Remember, scope is most important part of the planning. If you do not know what you are going to do you cannot plan.

Related article at

Making Emotional Conversations Unemotional

Rick A Morris, PMP (@rickamorris)

The secret to keeping emotions from critical conversations is to first obtain data, and then focus on the facts that data provides potential outcomes given different scenarios.  Never say “no”, only say yes with the expected outcome and other options (e.g., we can complete the project in 60 days if the entire team puts in 70 hour work weeks).  Remember, we are the trained project experts. Be candid and stand by your recommendations and predicted outcomes.

Abstract from paper

“Project managers are routinely faced with dilemmas, such as sponsors mandating unreachable dates, teams unable to give reliable estimates, changing priorities and scope, and a myriad of other issues. The reactions to these issues generally range from utter frustration to apathy. The reactions then lead to emotional conversations such as “We can’t possibly do this by then!” or “The Sponsor doesn’t understand!” I will show you how, from my personal experience, to take these emotionally charged situations and turn them into unemotional conversations. This will not be the latest fad or psychology, but a simple, time-tested, experience-based method to communicate with the entire project team from the stakeholders to the team members. I will share techniques on how to deal with mandated dates to the extremely tense post negotiation of a project gone very wrong. The techniques will be applicable for internal project managers, consultants, and any level in between. How to turn emotional conversations into unemotional conversations has been what I believe is my personal key to success.”

See Rick’s blog at

How to Stop Herding Cats: Leading Project Teams Through the Chaos

Bill Fournet, MA (@billfournet)

I will start by saying you cannot begin to talk about herding cats without first watching this 1 minute video –

This session focused on the difference in values between the generations.  To put the differences as briefly as possible:

  • Babyboomers value providing for the family
  • Gen X’ers (that’s me) value personal experience and opportunities
  • The Y generation values contributing to a greater good and opportunity above a paycheck

What this means is that each generation will have different motivators and we need to focus on how to satisfy their needs to get to “what’s in it for them”.  As the baby boomers leave the workplace, it will mean less people in the workforce that are satisfied with just getting a paycheck.  By 2014, over 50% of the workforce will be of the Y generation.  They are motivated guiding principles and values over rules.  Also, they are the first generation to understand opportunities and mobility in work they choose.

You can find more in the white paper published at

Managing Projects with the Brain in Mind: The Neuroscience of Leadership

Samad Aidane, BS, PMP (@samadaidane)

We really have three brains that come into play when getting emotionally charged information. If we take the time to:

  • Relabel the emotion,
  • Reframe the situation,
  • Refocus, and
  • Re-evaluate

The brain will move from “flight or fight” mode to a logical processing mode just by relabeling the emotion. Slow down and process to avoid an emotional response.

The SCARF model provides indicators of what types of perceived threats invoke an emotional response:

  • Status – our perceived status in relation to others
  • Certainty – the extent to which we feel we can predict the future
  • Autonomy – our perception of having a choice/options
  • Relatedness – how we relate to others and see them as friends or foes
  • Fairness – how we perceive an exchange as fair or not

By understanding these “threats” we can work to frame communications in a way not to invoke an emotional response in others as well as process our own emotions.

Related podcasts available at


So the bottom line for me is:

  • Yes indeed, minimal planning is required to avoid project failure
  • Recognize what motivates peers and staff
  • Keep emotions in check by understanding how the brain processes information and rely on facts and my own expertise in predicted outcomes
  • Avoid invoking emotions in others by understanding where emotions come from

Doesn’t sound like much, but I have a feeling it’s easier blogged than done.


Find more Congress highlights from my friend on Jeff Furman’s Blog: Highlights of the PMI North American Congress 2011.

Also Thomas Juli

Please use the comments to share some of your thoughts as well. Thank you.

3 responses to “Reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress (Part 1-Workshops)

  1. Jeff Furman October 29, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Vicki, great seeing you at the conference in Dallas, and I like your summary post a lot — makes me want to catch all 3 of those speakers.

    And again, your presentation in Dallas was excellent. I especially liked the way you got so much interaction from the participants. Hey, did you videotape it? If so,
    maybe you want to share some clips for your readers in a future post!

    Here is a link to the highlights of the sessions I attended… your name happens to appear in Highlight #4! 🙂


  2. Pingback: Reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress (Part 1-Workshops) « PMChat

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